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Snapshot: Coming Down the Mountain (Kill la Kill)

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I’ve made no secret of my distaste for 3-D animation in anime (known in the industry as "3DCGI" or "3DCG"). The vast majority of 3-D work in anime ranges from “passable amateur work” to “distractingly awful,” primarily because Japanese animators seem to either lack the time or the training to create believable character and camera motions in a 3-D space. That being said, there is a surprising amount of good 3DCG work going on in anime, though it’s primarily being done not with character or mech animation, but with the often forgotten anime art form: backgrounds. Computer software is enabling animation studios to create complex moving background effects and integrate them seamlessly into scenes.

One of the bolder examples is in Kill la Kill episode 1, in which sister studios Trigger (handling Animation Production) and Sanzigen (handling 3DCG) work together to create one of my favorite shots of the series. After we’ve been introduced to the totalitarian school that is Honnouji Academy, the camera sweeps down the school’s giant hill and the surrounding town, all the way out to a bridge on the outskirts, where it zooms in and spins to show belligerent transfer student Ryuko Matoi, our hero. (The scene is around the 3:50 mark if you'd like to check it out for yourself on Daisuki or Crunchyroll.)

Compositionally, it’s a fantastic scene that establishes in just 30 seconds both the style (dynamic camera angles and lots of stylish effects) and substance (one girl vs. a monstrous academic regime) of Kill la Kill, but it’s the technique behind it that makes it especially cool. There’s a very clever mix of 2-D and 3-D elements in the shot that switch back and forth as appropriate.

It begins with what seems to be a painted background of Honnouji’s sailor-uniform-shaped main building. However, upon close inspection, it's clear that the building is actually a 3-D model covered in painted textures that make it look like it's hand-drawn. This is a recently popularized technique that helps make 3-D backgrounds look more like their 2-D brethren (Mamoru Hosoda and Hiroshi Ohno used it to great effect in Wolf Children). Then the camera zooms out through a 3-D model of the school courtyard and walls, both of which are similarly textured. The frantic zoom continues out through the town, all of which is fully modeled and at least partially textured (some things look like they might be flat colors, but the shot is too fast to be sure). A combination of motion blur and hand-painted smoke backgrounds help obscure the model so its simplified version of Honnouji doesn’t seem inconsistent with the hand-drawn version.

Suddenly another puff of smoke whizzes past, and the entire 3-D model has been replaced with another painting, this time of the entire hill. The movement here is subtle, but this new "painting" is actually about three or four different hand-painted planes shifting at slightly different rates to create a sense of depth.

Now fully zoomed out, with Ryuko and the bridge in view, the camera comes back in and accentuates the effect with a Vertigo shot. The 3-D-modeled railing of the bridge showcases the effect, forming a classic one-point perspective image. While the 3-D camera executes a Vertigo shot (a.k.a. "dolly zoom"), the 2-D background zooms in, and eventually the Vertigo shot breaks, giving way to a true zoom on Ryuko that ends in another Vertigo shot to balance things out. Then there’s a stealthy cut to a front-facing closeup of Ryuko to give the impression that the camera just swung around her, and a hard cut to a full-body shot. Finally, one last cut to Ryuko from the back, glaring at the ominous Honnouji Academy (now represented by a new background painting).

This is the kind of shot that would be very time-consuming without 3DCG, in that an animator would have to hand-draw every frame of the zoom and the shifting perspective of the Vertigo shot. With the use of computers, however, and with clever cuts that obfuscate the simplifications on both the 2-D and 3-D sides, Trigger and Sanzigen are able to make a ridiculously dynamic 3-D shot come to life and still look completely right for the look and feel of the series.

Kill la Kill is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Daisuki.

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

Drunken Otaku: Homebrood

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Name: Lore Reamonn
Dirty Pair
Wine, Agarno Fluid
Favorite Dive: His cliff-top mansion
Type of Drunk: The Binger, The Hulk, The Recovering Alcoholic

It's said that love conquers all, but seeing as alcohol has ruined many a relationship, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that only the next bottle may lay claim to the throne as the rightful successor? And really, the bottle's just a vessel; it’s the alcohol therein which makes blue bloods of anyone by entering their circulatory system. So all hail the king who needs not rely on the fickle whim of crop yields to conjure forth inebriation. All hail the king who needs not yield to shoppes' authority of hour to procure his God-given right! All hail Dionysus incarnate! All hail ... a shut-in who's in love with a mannequin?

"An Unjustified Lover's Grudge. Let Me Love You Without Revenge," Dirty Pair Episode 19, features a young anime man, Lore Reamonn, who has watched a little too much real life and ends up emulating it (with predictably disastrous results). See, Reamonn has an “idiosyncrasy,” an allergy to flesh-and-blood women that makes him break out in sneezing fits whenever any female comes within three feet of his person. And if a woman dares touch him, then his eccentricity gets … intoxicating.

Upon even the most casual bump of epidermal uglies with a member of the opposite sex, Reamonn’s cerebral cortex releases agarno fluid into his blood. This turns the glucose in Reamonn’s body into alcohol and gets him real drunk real fast. The very nature of his affliction is one defined by excess and binging: all or nothing. Sure, he may drink wine for two at dinner since his chosen companion has no internal organs, but everything’s relative. After all, once he’s touched by an angel, Reamonn becomes his own weight in alcohol. So any imbibing in-between outbreaks of promiscuity-induced overindulgence is water by comparison.

While this is a dream come true for most lovers of delirium, the alchemic reaction of touch to intoxication is torture for Reamonn. His binging leads to blackouts where his maid has to recount the evening’s events from across the room, and it’s downright amazing that the fits he throws doesn’t leave him in tattered shirt and ripped purple shorts. While suffering whole-body alcohol poisoning, Reamonn flies into an unstoppable rage. He screams, breaks concrete, hurls the resulting rubble, performs flying kicks, picks up huge machines, and throws them too! Super powers from alcohol? Most people think they have them when drunk, but Reamonn is the genuine article!

Like a slack-jawed, teary-eyed Bruce Banner trying to come to terms with the havoc he’s unconsciously wrought around him, Reamonn withdraws into himself the mornings after in an attempt to make good. He dedicates his tactile tenderness solely to his dearly beloved sponsor Meshuzera, a plaster statue molded by his own hands, and other inanimate objects in hopes of restraining his brut-ish form. This way, he’ll never again endanger the emotions or physical being of his nearest and dearest (namely Miralda his faithful maid) or anyone within the world-at-large. Of course, recovery is never so easy a road. The wrong thing happening at the wrong moment could trigger a relapse. So God save whoever removes that failsafe from the equation ... lest the combination of Reamonn’s capacity and intolerance for the drink destroy everyone.

Life of Ledo

What Gargantia can tell us about the challenges facing Japan's youth

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EDITOR'S NOTE — One of our readers, Jared Nelson, wanted to bring his unique perspective on Gargantia to the blog, so we're extremely pleased to present this feature article, and we thank him for volunteering his time to write it up. If you're interested in contributing to Ani-Gamers, please don't hesitate to get in contact with us.

We meet him as a weapon forged through years of battle. This weapon, a young man named Ledo, can recall the concept of fear even though he can no longer remember the experience. Excess emotions have been smoothed away by the winds of war. He streaks through the vacuum of space, an arrow of the Galactic Alliance, aimed at the heart its enemies. Little does Ledo know that his life as a weapon has come to an end. Everything in Ledo’s life has led to this moment, but nothing in his life has prepared him for what comes next — not unlike most young Japanese entering adulthood today.

The 2013 sci-fi anime Gargantia on the Verderous Planet tells the story of Ledo’s journey from weapon to human being, and the hopeful message therein comes from the perhaps unlikely mind of Gen Urobuchi (best known for darker works such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica). In developing the plot for Gargantia, Urobuchi wanted to “make a story for those who feel perplexed because of job hunting itself or because they have just entered their position as a first-year working adult.” When a project calls for tackling the existential terror of finding one’s own way through the world, perhaps Urobuchi isn’t as unlikely a choice as he might seem. In fact, in Ledo, Urobuchi has given voice to the struggles of modern Japanese youth.

Just like Ledo arriving on Earth, these young people have found themselves in a world marked by uncertainty.

Like many countries, Japan currently suffers from a stubbornly high youth unemployment rate. In Japan’s case, the unemployment rate among young people has hovered over 7% since the mid-1990s and reached an all-time high of 10.8% in June 2010. (These and other details as well as comparative country data can be found here.)  An entire generation of children have been born and grown up during Japan’s post-bubble economic malaise. Just like Ledo arriving on Earth, these young people have found themselves in a world marked by uncertainty. And in Ledo, Urobuchi explores the challenges and questions Japanese youth face today.

By the time young Japanese students enter junior high school, the equivalent of grades 7-9 in the USA, societal expectations begin to exert an increasingly strong influence on their lives. The exam-based entrance system of Japanese schools drives most of the pressure Japanese students feel to perform. The ability of a newly minted member of the Japanese workforce to find a good job depends on the prestige and perceived rigor of the university from which he or she came.  Likewise, getting into a good university depends on coming from a good high school, junior high school, and in some cases even elementary school.  As a result, there is tremendous pressure on students to make the best grades possible as early as possible. Many students in Japan attend supplementary schools called "juku," otherwise known as cram schools, in order to get ahead in their studies or to prep for an entrance exam for the school they’d like to attend.  Students attend juku on school nights/weekends for the entire purpose of making sure they get into the best high school or university they can.

Where does Ledo come in?  Ledo spent 145,000 hours, or roughly 16 years (don’t ask me how), serving the Galactic Alliance as a solider.  For each of those hours, Ledo focused exclusively on his mission: fighting the alien race called the "hideazue." The fate of the human race depended, in part, on his ability to kill as many hideazue as possible. Ledo’s pre-Gargantia life parallels the rigorous life of Japanese students prior to entering the workforce. In both environments, discipline, order, and conformity form the essential building blocks of success. Ideally, both the Galactic Alliance and the Japanese educational system produce highly trained and disciplined young people that can immediately benefit society at large. However, the system of lifetime employment that employees assumed as a given in pre-bubble Japan has fallen, like Ledo, down a wormhole. And like Ledo arriving on Earth, the economy that today’s Japanese college graduates find themselves in bears little resemblance to that of their parents.

When the vast majority of life is spent in a structured, well-ordered environment, the transition to a lesser-ordered, less-certain environment can be culture shock.

In the series, Ledo’s arrival on Earth marks the end of his old life as a solider and the beginning of his new life as … something. What can he do in a world where soldiers don’t exist? When the vast majority of life is spent in a structured, well-ordered environment, the transition to a lesser-ordered, less-certain environment can be culture shock. Ledo’s repeated attempts and failures to find a job he’s well-suited for echo the real life struggles many young people experience today with finding a job in the post-bubble, post-Great Recession economy.

Once a Japanese graduate exits the education system and begins the job hunt, they find themselves in a job market where their skills don’t necessarily translate to the specific needs of the job market.  In a system where conformity and teamwork are prized, it can be difficult for a candidate to express why they should be chosen for a job. Either they risk appearing too bold (most Japanese companies frown on anything that can be seen as excess confidence) or not explaining or demonstrating their strengths well enough. With such a difficult balance to strike, it’s no wonder many young Japanese become discouraged and frustrated with the process.

While several moments in the series call attention to the allegorical qualities of Ledo’s job hunt, Urobuchi provides another more subtle but equally important theme.  The war between the Galactic Alliance and hideazue of space and the peaceful coexistence between the people of Gargantia and the hideazue of Earth represent two emerging narratives in modern Japanese society. One path, the “space path,” suggests a worldview that recalls Japan’s more militaristic past — using hard (military) power to defend the country’s interests if necessary and taking a more aggressive stance against potential rivals in East Asia. The alternative, the “earth path,” hews closer to the political stance Japan has employed since the end of the Second World War by leveraging soft (socio-economic) power to advance Japan’s interests as well as taking a collaborative and multi-lateral diplomatic approach toward neighboring countries in the region.  

Ledo’s internal conflict between his upbringing as a soldier and his experiences aboard Gargantia represents the clash of these divergent worldviews in Japanese society and suggests that Japanese youth, like Ledo, will have to reconcile these viewpoints as they inherit society from their parents.  The clash of the aforementioned space and earth paths comes to a climax in Episode 9, when Ledo's AI companion Chamber kills a hideazue child it perceives as a threat. Chamber does this despite Ledo’s desire to not harm her after learning that a group of humans evolved into what became the hideazue. With the enemy now humanized (literally), Ledo screams in anguish at her death. Another example of the clash of these worldviews comes near the end of the series, when Ledo and Chamber disobey direct orders from Striker to destroy the Gargantia fleet.

In both the cases of finding employment and Japan’s place in the world, Urobuchi seems to suggest a third way. In the case of employment, perseverance and flexibility help Ledo to find a job as a salvager. In the case of war versus peace, the message seems a bit more nuanced.  Early in the series, outright pacifism seems to be debunked as a go-forward strategy as represented by Gargantia’s battles with pirate captain Lukkage. However, most of the characters in the show strongly reject the mass murder and destruction of both the pirate forces and later the hideazue of Earth by Ledo.

As a 2013 anime series, Gargantia on the Verderous Planet may not be remembered as a blockbuster like Attack on Titan or a groundbreaking work like Flowers of Evil. Some episodes (episode 4) I found especially powerful. Others (episode 5 … ugh) might be best forgotten. But despite its flaws, I found myself choosing Gargantia as my favorite show of the year, because it tried to address some of the larger real-life questions the newly minted adults of Japan face today. I had the honor of teaching some of those young adults a decade earlier. If any of my former students manage to see Gargantia, I hope its message of perseverance and hope provide some small comfort as they navigate their way through an uncertain world.

The Trap Door: A Boy And His Robot

Giant Robo: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1992)

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Giant Robo splashDeep down, I worry about the anime industry. I can’t tell if it’s the influx of titles that seem to be about liking girls who are 14 or younger, or the fact that for a medium that has international roots, anime these days is more insular than ever.  In any event, there are points where I wonder how much lower things can go before I finally lose interest in this medium. When I feel like this, I watch something that makes me resolve my doubts. It’s my comfort food, it’s a tale of courage and villainy and it's fitting as the anniversary post for the Trap Door. It’s Yasuhiro Imagawa’s OVA, Giant Robo: The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Taking character designs from Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s various manga over the years and adapting one of his most famous stories, Giant Robo, Imagawa’s anime tells of the final, terrible, conflict between the International Police Organisation (IPO) and their team, Experts of Justice and the crime organisation Big Fire (Hail Big Fire! Allegiance or Death!!) and their own team, the Magnificent Ten, during a golden age of humankind brought on the "Shizuma Drive." The drive has allowed free, clean energy but there is a horrific secret at its core. Smack in the middle of this fight is Daisaku Kusuma, the young boy in control of the former BF robot, Giant Robo and allied with the EoJ. This war will decide the fate of mankind and the answer to a question Daisaku’s late father once asked of his son. Nearly ten years in the making, Giant Robo was a series of OVAs that Imagawa slaved away on while working on G Gundam and Berserk as director and writer. Set in a kind of quasi-steampunk setting before that genre was run into the ground, it’s got spies, assassins, meta-humans, robots, nuclear destruction and more one-on-one fights than a Sergio Leone film.

GR Splash 1

This series uses Yokoyama’s designs for both people and things and is steeped in a classical style that feels like it could be from any time in anime’s history. There are elements of wuxia films in the way Professor Go dresses and acts along with two of the EoJ’s best fighters, the brothers Tetsugyu and Taiso as they act and are dressed in the style of 18th or 19th century heroes of old. Also, the duels that happen between the EoJ and Mag-10 are tried and true circling with the opponents trying to size each other before making their first (and in some cases only) move. The way that Robo is used to show the scale of the buildings and places he’s in since he himself is at least a hundred feet tall gives you some idea of the scale of the set pieces. When Robo and Daisaku go into battle, the earth and heavens shake and we get contrasting close-ups alongside Daisaku and long shots as district-shattering blows are rained down on the machines involved. Massive machines destroy Shanghai in a attempt to capture one man and an attache case. Military bases are set ablaze as people battle atop the ruins in lightning fast duels. Robo tackles a sphere the size of a small moon. If this were all there was to Giant Robo, then it would be enough to satisfy most, me included. But there’s more. Much much more!

GR Splash Images 2

The lead, Daisaku, is a young man who’s trying to understand his way in the world. He takes after people like Professor Go, a calm and reasoned man who knows what is sometimes required so that others might live, or Taiso, a man for whom the idea of not fighting with every last drop of strength and honor in your body is tantamount to mental treason. Daisaku controls a giant robot that only responds to his command and this certainty has allowed him to help the Experts on missions where most normal people couldn’t. But he’s never had to make tough decisions, ones that decided the fate of the world. For all their bluster, Big Fire is more in the Adam West Batman school of villainy but the people they’re allied with will force everyone, including Daisaku, to make unforgettable choices. Daisaku has a slight crush on Ginrei, the feisty and no nonsense female agent who has a personal interest in this latest case. For Daisaku, she is the big sister he could have had. For Ginrei, Daisaku represents the last place her own innocence can take refuge in the world she knows. Tetsugyu comes across as all bluster and no brains but he really does have the heart of a bear and fortitude of a samurai warrior. His jealous mutterings about Daisaku spending time with Ginrei as HIS crush on Ginrei goes unrequited give way to a man-child who becomes a man as he stands for what he believes in and lives with the choice. Other people like Professor Go and the Chief help Daisaku become a better person rather than a man. When he finds out the truth behind the battle, it’s shocking but goes to the heart of the final moments he had with his late father. A brilliant man, he designed Giant Robo for Big Fire but decided to turn the machine over to the IPO and gave voice command control to his son. In their last talk, he asked his son to find the answer to whether or not people could achieve true happiness without some form of sacrifice.

GR Splash Images 3

The other question he asked goes to the other heart of the show: can a new era be born without tragedy? For Genya, a man determined to make the world pay for their vilification of a dead man, this new era of clean energy and peace is built on lies and the countless lives that were extinguished in what all the players describe as The Tragedy of Bashtarlle. The actual event is first told in half scenes, without substance and in shadow, then in more elaborate sequences. As Genya allies himself with Big Fire Group and Mag-10, his plan to punish the world steps up and every evil perpetrated is mere window dressing, the last act starts and the conflict comes to it's conclusion. While this is beyond the horror of anything that we can imagine, the reasons Genya has, once you know them, seem to justify themselves. All the world is living a lie, known only to a few, and a good man paid the price for trying to do the right thing. The show’s strength are that we feel for the people caught in the crossfire and for the people forced to make the decisions. Even when Big Fire point man Alberto realises what Genya intends to do, he tries to prevent it. From what I could see, it was more to do with the fact that Genya lied to Big Fire rather than it being evil (they are villains after all). All this tragedy could have been avoided if Genya and a few others had been able to make sense of Bashtarlle without having the world revile them. In the end, the people at the heart of that incident come to the same place physically but have radically different outlooks on life. The final battle is heartstring tugging and full on emotional with both the side of good and bad having to pay in full. In an operatic showdown of earth-shattering proportions, Genya’s plan meets the power of one boy and his robot as every one of Daisaku’s friends and allies give their all so that the best of them can stand up for his ideals and make the place better than when he started. Without knowing it at the beginning, Daisaku gets to see that good and bad are two sides of the same coin and that happiness will win out against sadness so long as there are people to defend it.

GR Splash Images 4

The full title of the show includes “The Day The Earth Stood Still”. This is a double reference with one being the shutdown of the Earth’s Shizuma drives and the other being the classic 1951 science fiction film of the same name. In that, an alien named Klaatu and a robot named Gort come to Earth to make contact and open relations. Due to our fears and insecurities, Gort near destroys humanity before a few brave humans and Klaatu stop him. In both stories, we are almost destroyed by ourselves and the only real difference is the threats come from inside and outside the Earth. In the original film, the power of our technology is laid waste by Klaatu’s science and in the anime, Genya’s Blessed Night sphere does the same. The resolve in the end for Klaatu and his new friends is that unless we give up our need to destroy and the need for quick fixes, the planet and humanity are both doomed. A similar scenario occured to me while watching Giant Robo.

For me, the emotional soul of the series is Masamichi Amano's musical triumph. A masterpiece of both Wagnerian opera styles and the film scores of Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Neumann, Max Steiner, and especially Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the score has simply no equal in anime even today. In much the same way as Star Wars reopened the Romantic style of filmscore back into Hollywood films, Giant Robo uses a sweeping, honest-to-God adventure score and employs the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir with Amano composing, arranging and conducting the orchestra. When you consider that Nippon Columbia rung seven soundtracks, one for each episode I’d imagine, the score is something to find online, if you can. Every time Daisaku is swept up by his faithful companion, the score goes into high adventure and lashings of mecha derring-do. The murky treachery of Big Fire brings the classic moody, accusing violins of a Warner or MGM 50's thriller. When we learn about Bashtarlle, Amano goes for full Gregorian laments and Italian romanzas as the world crumbles around both Big Fire, Genya’s Sphere, and the Experts of Justice. Finally, the overarching theme of the show is a brilliant lover letter to the scores of Elmer Bernstein and Miklós Rózsa and the epics of the fifties with a little bit of John Williams thrown in for good measure.

GR Splash Images 5

Sadly, the plan to do a prequel showing how Daisaku came to be with the IPO never came to fruition for director and writer Imagawa. The show was so long in production, that by the end sales probably couldn’t justify going back and doing more. The era of the OVA was waning in 1998 and full blown control by TV and music companies was being reestablished, so who would want to see more retro-styled anime? Despite this, it did trigger a continued revival in reimagining the works of people like Osamu Tezuka and Go Nagai as well as a revival by Imagawa of Yokoyama’s other big title Tetsujin-28 in 2004. There was another Giant Robo show in the 21st century called GR: Giant Robo (2007) and a manga written by Imagawa called Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Burned in 2006. I feel like there should be more Giant Robo but in a different setting from The Day the Earth Stood Still as it finishes its story and there is no further need to visit this world. I want to recommend other titles like it but there are simply none to my mind that come close to its perfect balance of music, character, setting, pace, tone, and construction. So, go and find it online on eBay or Amazon. All of it plus the Ginrei comedy special were released by Media Blasters years ago and include the Japanese language track plus both the NYAV and the older Streamline dubs as well. It can be expensive but steals can be found if you keep a sharp weather eye for them.

I’ve been planning to do Giant Robo on the Trap Door since at least the summer of last year. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write this but hopefully you will try out the show and enjoy it as much as I have.

Lastly, I have two important announcments, one great and one slightly sad. First up, with Discotek licensing more Lupin The 3rd, I'm going to do a season of the films and specials that are currently available sometime in the summer of this year. While I will try and find the FUNimation releases (they are getting harder to find for decent prices), it's a surer bet that I'll be using the Discotek releases for my material. 

The second announcment is I have decided to close the Trap Door column as a monthly section of Ani-Gamers in the foreseeable future. While I've enjoyed my time here, I'm starting to notice that I'm looking forward to not having to worry about what to watch for Trap Door once each month's post goes up. Aside from one month, I have not missed a post in two years and want to finish this out with an unblemished record. So with that in mind, here's how the column will be wound down: 

  • From next month, I will be doing one post a month until March of next year. A lot of these will be pre-written for workflow reasons including the Lupin season so if I don't make mention of any comments I get each month, you'll know why.
  • Second, I'll be publishing tentative lists of what I'll be writing about so you can get comments or questions in ahead of time. If you know someone who might be curious or who knows about whatever I'll be writing on, pass on the details to them!
  • Finally, after March 2015, I will be doing two bonus posts to bring us up to the summer as Ani-Gamers is going to do something special for my final entry for Trap Door. I won't tell you what the final post will be and nor will I be giving out any clues. You'll just have to wait and see. 

It's too soon to say goodbye yet but we're on our way to the last stop on the track! Hope you'll all join me!

Genericon XXVII: The Panels

Vertical, Vampires, and Venting

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Our con report was a couple weeks ago, but since then we've been cooking up some reactions to the panels and events at Genericon XXVII (a.k.a. Genericon 2014). Enjoy, and see you at next year's Genericon!

Ed Chavez at the Vertical industry panel

Vertical, Inc. Industry Panel

Vertical's industry panels always maintain a fun, low-key atmosphere where fans get to basically just hang out with Marketing Director Ed Chavez, but recently Ed has started adding even cooler stuff to the panel. Namely, after running through a bunch of announcements and upcoming Vertical titles (this time he announced novels rather than manga), he sometimes launches into an explanation of the manga licensing process. Since this year's Genericon crowd was so small, Ed invited everybody up to the front of the room for an intimate discussion of the production process, complete with the audience hypothetically pitching titles for Ed to analyze. It was a fantastic glimpse into the manga licensing process, with Ed laying out the case for each title in terms of production costs, marketing budget, and projected sales. If you have any interest in the inner workings of the anime and manga industries, this is a great way to get your questions answered. –Evan

Krystina Plekan presents a Sailor Moon panel

Sailor Moon: The Panel!

There’s a new Sailor Moon coming out, so this was a perfect time for a refresher course. Luckily, that’s exactly what this panel turned out to be. Panelists Krystina Plekan, Victoria, and Courtney Jordan, respectively cosplaying Sailor Neptune, Princess Cosmos, and Chibiusa, started off with a little bit of history behind the manga. This included what distinguished Sailor Moon on a conceptual level from past mahou shoujo— its blending in of super sentai and a focus on darker, more mature subject matter—as well as publication details. Past that, seasons were broken down by characters; their traits, relationships, and M.O.s (where applicable); and basic plot descriptions. In-between seasons came trivia, which kept the audience involved, but it was not needed as Krystina maintained a tone of good humor and kept a pretty good demand of attention via a smooth and animated delivery of a topic over which she obviously had a thorough command. Victoria took over for Season 3, and Courtney seemed to be relegated to operating the slide show, but that might have changed. I had to run (due to overlapping panels/events) to the Historical Dance Demo. –Ink

Historical Dance Demo

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting medieval dance and dress, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Led by Carol March and Amanda Petritsch, members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, volunteers first took instructions on and practiced the moves of a simple country dance, which they then performed in full to appropriate music. All the participants seemed to be having a blast being awkward and laughing at their own missteps. All-in-all, however, and after only a couple of attempts, the dances flowed fairly smoothly—a testament to quick learners. Unfortunately, I did not get to see dances from other continents/ages (as promised by the guidebook description) due to overlapping panels/events. –Ink

Anime Amazons

Anime Amazons

Presenters Kristina Korpus, Zoe Epstein, and Carly Smith began by an appropriate and oft-neglected disclaimer that their insight relates to how characters are viewed in American or English culture rather than how they’re seen from a Japanese perspective. They also defined “amazon” as they were going to be applying it, characters that are not thought of as the typical strong type, and proceeded to give several examples from several anime. The majority of examples brought up were supported with hard facts from the series, but the presenters would also occasionally slip into saying the character was “a strong female character” (a fallback phrase which was repeated a little too often) because of the defining terms listed in the beginning rather than backing evidence from their respective series. Another slight irk was that the presenters lingered a little too long on Kill La Kill analysis (objectification vs. empowerment). There were wonderful points made, but these were for another panel. Despite these things, however, the panel went smoothly, and the presenters brought up some wonderful and subtle ways in which anime has strengthen female characters: swapping of the sex typical in shonen roles, the turning of a usually limiting role (motherhood) into agency, and much more. –Ink

Evan's Trigger panel

‘Trigger’ Warning: Birth of an Anime Studio

If you’re a reader of this blog, then you probably know by now of the editor-in-chief’s obsession with the upstart anime production company Trigger (Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia). Bringing his love (and research) off the screen and into a college lecture hall, Evan Minto relayed the company’s history and main players, including the “ridiculously multitalented” Yoh Yoshinari, Sushio and his frenetic style, and Akira Amemiya. Each member of Trigger received individual introductions complete with job title explanations and defining works as well as example clips/stills thereof. A brief stint during a clip where there was no audio did not pose the slightest hindrance, as Minto knew more than enough to narrate the clip by pointing out examples of directorial and artistic influence...and that was entertaining in and of itself. When several talented people who have, as noted by Minto, previously worked together on separate projects join forces to make a company with the intent of making more of what they’re good at, it’s something of which to take notice. Evan did a thorough job of explaining where these creative talents came from, pointing out their fingerprints amongst the studio’s various projects, and explaining the blueprints for his favorite animation studio. –Ink

Anime Name-That-Image

Despite staffing Genericon for four years, this was the first year I got to stick around for more than 30 seconds of Anime Name-That-Image, a game show-style panel run by perennial Genericon favorites (and staff alumni) The Con Artists: Su, Scott, Brendan, and Dan. The structure was simple — an image appeared on screen, and attendees had to raise their hands to answer what anime the image was from — but what made it so much more was the excellent image selection. Choices ranged from the hilariously obvious (a full body shot of Eva Unit 02) to the bizarre and obscure (my favorite, Sword for Truth, made an appearance). The most brilliant choices were the trick shots, where familiar aspects were hidden or distorted to slow down and confuse recognition. Ink, Ed Chavez, and I sat next to each other for this panel, and we had a blast taking guesses amongst ourselves and trying our luck against the crowd. I didn't get a chance to see any of The Con Artists' other competitive events (Anime Name-That-Tune, Video Game Name-That-Image, etc.), but if they're anything like this one, I suggest you carve out some time for them at future Genericons. –Evan

Ed presents his josei panel to a tiny late-night audience

Josei Manga

Prefacing his presentation with where his observations and research had led him, that English-speaking markets are apathetic towards women’s comics in general (let alone their Japanese counterparts), Chavez warned the lack of exposure is due to no-one writing about it or criticizing it. In short, no-one’s getting the word out about one of the largest segments of manga in publication in Japan. The panel began with a bit of josei’s history—how it came about via established artists breaking out of writing stories for kids in favor of stories focusing on more sophisticated narratives —and covered the various waves of josei publication, dominant topics in the publications themselves, as well as analyses of both the distinctive art style as well as storytelling evolution. Urging people to purchase the material and approach publishers about publishing more of it, Chavez rattled off some josei manga available in English (available from Vertical Inc. and other reputable sources) as well as the various artists responsible for titles currently being published. If you see this panel come around, find a seat; you’ll learn yourself something: new titles, new authors/artists, history! My only gripe…not once did he mention Chihayafuru. Tsk tsk tsk. That aside, below is a list of authors and artists as well as a list of non-Chihayafuru josei manga currently in English that you can check out.

Authors/Artists: Ichijo Yukari and Ryoko Yamagichi (only members of the Forty-Niners, or "Show 24 Group," working in josei), Kyoko Okazaki (mother of modern day josei), Moyoco Anno (Insufficient Direction, In Clothes Called Fat), Erica Sakurazawa (Angel, Aromatic Bitters), Ai Yazawa (Paradise Kiss, NANA), Matsuri Akino (Petshop of Horrors), Yayoi Ogawa (Tramps Like Us, Baroque)

Josei in English: Helter Skelter, Midnight Secretary, Happy Marriage, A Bride’s Story, Thermae Romae, Wolfsmund, 07-Ghost, Kaoru Mori, Carnival, Saiyuki, Gangster, Bunny Drop, Dawn of the Arcana, Pink, Princess Jellyfish, and many more.


Alice Theibault's Shiki panel

Shiki: A Vampire Series with Bite

Alice Theibault, for her first panel ever, decided to introduce and expound upon one of her favorite vampire anime series by sinking her teeth into Shiki. The presentation was well rounded. Theibault began with some background, the origin and influences, and then went into some of the more technical aspects, such as music and art, which help define Shiki’s tone and atmosphere. There was a dissection of the aspects of Shiki’s vampires and characters as well as how the show uses them to capitalize on fear, but the most interesting points of the presentation were those addressing Shiki’s aspects of deconstruction concerning moral ambiguity, Japanese societal values, and women’s roles. These were only briefly and lightly touched upon but included nonetheless. Imagined as a fun way to conclude the panel, Theibault put together a “game” which was, in essence, an online survey of which household in Shiki world contestants belonged to given their answers to certain questions. The same questions were asked of every volunteer, making things repetitive, but that didn’t stop people from volunteering. –Ink

Alice also quoted Ink's Shiki review in her panel, which gives her extra credit points in our book. –Evan

Krystina Plekan explains the meaning of "THAT Guy"

Don’t Be THAT Person

When I was there, I was shaming the presenter for not actually talking about the kind of THAT person I was thinking of. But as I realized I was doing so because she had yet to mention that with which I’m most familiar, I began shaming myself for not accepting a broadened application of the term. In case you don’t know, “THAT person” refers to someone disruptive at a con. Ways in which “THAT person” could be disruptive was the focus of this panel, which doubled as verbal warning and venting session. Krystina Plekan and Grace Liu promised to be extremely blunt about common sense, and oh boy did that abound. Though when all of two topics are covered for about forty minutes, minutia gets repetitive and sympathy for the victim almost flies out the window. Still, the panel managed to expose a range of arenas in which “THAT person” is present as reigning gladiator over con goers’ discontent: hotel shenanigans, cosplay disrespect, camera obnoxiousness, panel interruption, and hygiene disregard (to name a few). Most of these reflected betrayals of con guidelines or general etiquette, but there were disgusting/appalling insights peppered throughout. The panelist maintained a humorous disposition without being mocking or offensive, a line that’s all too easy to cross considering the topic and the frustration behind it. –Ink